How to Navigate Sexual Issues While Single

This article offers instructions for single adults of all ages who are perplexed by questions about how to navigate sexual issues while they are single.

This article offers questions for you to answer to discover where you stand on various "spectrums" of sexuality, such as sex drive, monogamy, and kinkiness. It also offers tips on how to assess your sexual compatibility with a future partner.

If you want to share a relationship that will stand the test of time, it is important to get to know your own sexual preferences so you can find someone who shares them with you. It is possible to discover many of your sexual preferences on your own by simply reflecting on who you find most attractive, and what scenarios most appeal to you from books, movies, and fantasies. Other preferences may only take shape in the context of a relationship either because you are introduced to something new, or because you learn to like something you never experienced before.


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    Think about how much you really want to have sex with other people. If you sometimes feel different than other people because you feel content being single and celibate, ask yourself the following:
    • Do you find that you lack any desire for or attraction to members of either gender? You may think some people are good looking, but do not feel "turned on" by looking at them the way your friends seem to be.
    • Or are you attracted to some people of the same and/or opposite gender, but you do not actually want to have sex with those people? Did you try making out with, or having sex with people you felt attracted to, and find you did not enjoy the experience?
      • If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you do not need to feel alone or abnormal. There are many others who are asexual like you. Asexuals sometimes enjoy romantic relationships without sex, or with limited sex. Asexuals may seek out just cuddling and physical affection, or they may only want platonic friendships in their life.
      • There is a strong online support community for asexuals that you may want to reach out to, to seek advice and support on how to handle feeling "different" than your single and "coupled" friends, and to seek advice on how to pursue the kinds of non-sexual (or quasi-sexual) relationships you want in your life.
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    Think about how "monogamous" you want your next relationship to be. There is a great deal of diversity in the types of relationships people share. Maybe you are not cut out for some kinds of relationships, but you are for other kinds of relationships.
    • Think about how many different sexual partners you would ideally like to have at any given point in time. If you are imagining a mix of several different long and short term sexual partners, you may be on the non-monogamous end of the monogamy <--> non-monogamy spectrum. Many people with these preferences become polyamorous, because polyamory allows them to find partners who are comfortable being in relatively "open" types of relationships in an ethical manner (i.e., without exposing anyone to sexually-transmitted-disease risks without their explicit consent).
    • If that seems untenable to you in the long run, maybe you imagine instead sharing a long-term, stable relationship with someone, but that you and your partner are not completely closed off to other relationships. Maybe as a couple, you engage in swinging, or perhaps both of you are free to form meaningful, long-term sexual and romantic relationships with others. If this sounds like your idea, you may be happiest pursuing either a polyfidelitous relationship, or a more conventional type of relationship with someone who enjoys swinging or visiting sex clubs on occasion.
    • There are poly-oriented online communities and local support groups in many areas for polyamorous individuals. The most popular dating site for those seeking poly relationships is ok cupid.
    • If none of these non-monogamous types of relationships appeal to you in concept, and instead, your ideal relationship would be sexually exclusive, you may be on the monogamous end of the non-monogamy <--> monogamy spectrum. If you tend to feel jealous when someone you like flirts with someone else, and if you often imagine the object of your affection loving you, and only you, these are good indicators that you have strong (serially) monogamous tendencies. If you can hardly think of anyone else in a "romantic" way when you are in love with someone, this is also a good indicator that you are (serially) monogamous by nature.
    • It is important to understand that you cannot convert someone to become polyamorous any more than you can convert someone to become gay or monogamous. It is part of who someone is that typically lasts a lifetime and cannot be changed. You are more likely to be sexually compatible with someone in the long run if you are both on the same end (or middle) of the non-monogamy <--> monogamy spectrum.
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    Ask yourself how "kinky" you want your next relationship to be? There is a lot of diversity when it comes to sexual desire, so there really is no such thing as normal and abnormal sexual desires, just rare and more common sexual desires. Desires you may think of as rare may not be as rare as you think.
    • Do you only enjoy fantasizing about sex while being somewhere unique, or doing something less than conventional, such as imagining having sex in public or while dressed in Victorian-era costumes? You may be "kinky" and have a fetish. Many if not most people have fetishes, whether they are aware of them or not. Just because you like imagining a particular "fetish" scenario does not mean you ever need to or even want to enact it. Then again, you might!
    • Figuring out where you fall on the various sexual and "kink" spectrums is another key step in learning how to explore and enjoy your sexuality with yourself and with others. It is also a key step to finding a partner you will be sexually compatible with in the long run.
    • There are many online communities devoted to helping adults explore their kinks. On these sites, you can find information about "munch-ins", which are meetings at coffee shops devoted to discussing kinks with like-minded, "fetish-friendly" people.
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    Take the initiative to pursue the kind of relationship you want. The most important step you can take to increase your odds of finding someone to share a relationship with is to live in or move to a medium to large city. The more interested you are in alternative types of relationships, the important it is that you live in a community that is large enough to include people with similar interests. Across the United States, 28% of adults live by themselves, but the proportion of adults who live alone in large cities like New York and Washington D.C. is closer to 50%. [1] A large proportion of those living alone are single. Internationally, the percentage of those living alone are fairly similar in large cities. Following are some of the most important steps you need to take in order to take the initiative to find a relationship:
    • ask people out on dates (the more you do it, the easier it gets);
    • get involved in social activities you enjoy that are with the kinds of people you want to date;
    • put yourself out there (post a profile on an online dating site, let your friends know you are single and looking);
    • be flexible about the terms of the relationship (e.g., agree to casually date someone for the first few months of the relationship);
    • and try to reassess and adjust your more superficial preferences (ask a good friend to help you decide what preferences you have that are a little silly - like hair color - that might lead you to overlook a great potential partner).
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    Many people who complain about all the good guys or women being “taken” are usually referring to funny, kind, attractive, interesting people whom they imagine meeting relatively effortlessly, who share similar relationship goals with them, and whom they feel a mutual spark with right from the start. While this does happen time to time, most people have to take some of the steps outlined above if they realistically hope to meet someone they could be happy with in a relationship.
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    Determine whether you are sexually compatible with your new partner. Here are some initial questions to ask yourself as you enter into, and then become more deeply involved in a long-term relationship:
    • Do you often feel rejected by your partner when you try to initiate intimacy? Does your partner complain often of feeling rejected in this way by you?
    • Do you feel as if your partner is only intimate with you out of a sense of obligation? Or does your partner complain that you do not seem to really enjoy sex?
    • Do you and your partner have vastly different sex drives?
    • Do you and your partner seem to enjoy very different things in bed, enough that you end up arguing a lot when you try to have sex?
    • If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be a sign that you are sexually incompatible with someone, at least to a degree worth discussing with your new partner. It is possible you could work through these issues through communication, or you might find the problems just get worse over time.
    • Remember, sexual compatibility is generally undervalued in our society (especially among young women who have not reached their sexual peak) and many relationships end due to sexual incompatibility issues.
    • Even if you are saving sex till marriage, in premarital counseling, many pastors and priests encourage engaged couples to talk through many of these types of issues to make sure they are on the same page before they make a lifetime commitment to each other. Many believe it is possible to get a good sense of your sexual chemistry and compatibility with someone without having intercourse, since intercourse is only one part of sex. In general, traits like conscientiousness, responsiveness to needs, and willingness to go out of one's way to make someone else happy are traits that carry over into the bedroom, especially with time and experience.
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    Avoid settling. Many people admit to having settled for a less than ideal sex life in order to maintain a long-term, monogamous romantic relationship.
    • It can be especially disappointing for those individuals if an infidelity or romantic betrayal occurs, because they may have felt like they would not have been willing to make those kinds of compromises about their sex life if they had known their partners would not stay true to their word:
    • As a rule of thumb, your relationship should be so sexually and emotionally satisfying that you think you could imagine forgiving that partner if s/he cheated on you once, since there is a high likelihood s/he will (see Warnings section). If you cling to an unsatisfying, dysfunctional relationship just because you think your partner will be sexually faithful, that is not much of a basis for a relationship (and you may be wrong).
    • If you know you are sexually incompatible from the beginning, the decision to leave may be easy. If you are having sexual problems with a long-term partner, though, it is important to assess whether the problem can be fixed with time. Be gentle and patient, because you do not want to give them a complex and make matters worse:
      • You might consider seeing a sexual counselor, which is a therapist who specializes in talking with couples about sexual issues and assigning them "homework" to do, to work toward resolving sexual issues.
      • Take your time, because you may not immediately uncover the causes, which could range from temporary depression to your partner just sticking around for financial support even though s/he does not love you anymore.
      • If you suspect your partner is not being up front about the causes, or you do not think you can tolerate the sexual problems in the long run and have tried for several months to address the problem, sometimes it is better for both people to end the relationship.


  • To minimize the risk of ever having to dump (or be dumped) by a long-term partner due to sexual incompatibility issues, when you start a new relationship, be open from the beginning about what turns you on, and the type of relationship you want both now and in the long run (e.g., "Polyamory is not just a phase for me - I want to be poly when I am married with kids, retired, etc."). If you find your partner is unresponsive to your requests over time, pressures you to change in ways you are unable or unwilling to, and you have a hard time imagining being satisfied over the long haul with the sexual-status-quo of your relationship, you will likely save both you and your partner a lot of heartbreak by leaving sooner rather than later.
  • There are many reasons people decide to remain celibate, besides being asexual: you may be a single parent who does not want to date while your kids are still living at home; you may have a disability or medical condition that would make a relationship untenable; or you may have made poor relationship decisions in the past and do not want to take the risk of being hurt or hurting someone again. As monks and nuns realized thousands of years ago, if you seek to live a peaceful, serene life - especially one in service of others or a larger cause - being celibate is likely the best way.
  • Sometimes people have only romantic, or only sexual feelings for members of the same or opposite gender. You may be "Bisexual" if you have a strong sexual attraction to both genders, even if the romantic component to your attraction is not there for either gender. Many bisexuals say they only feel sexual attraction to members of the same gender, but feel both romantic and sexual attraction to opposite gender individuals.
  • Generally, the longer you are celibate, the older you are, and the more full your life is, the easier it is to channel your sexual energy (and frustration) into healthy diversions. Your sex drive also tends to decline with age (which makes celibacy easier).
  • It's important to keep in mind that some people say they have known their sexual preferences since they were toddlers, while others are not sure about their sexual preferences until they experiment during their twenties and thirties. Generally, the twenties are seen as a time when most people explore and more fully discover their own sexual desires and preferences. The twenties are also a time when most LGBT individuals who are "in the closet", "come out".


  • How do you know if a relationship is worth the risk? When ever you enter into a new relationship, there are always risks. These risks extend beyond the ones that usually come to mind for people: contracting a sexually transmitted disease, unplanned pregnancies, infidelity, and being dumped. Some other risks include:
    • your partner may not make the necessary effort to keep your sex life fulfilling over time.
    • you might be faced with the choice between staying with, or leaving a partner who no longer wants to have sex, or is unable to have sex (e.g., due to extremely low testosterone levels caused by daily drinking).
    • either you or your partner might wish to change the terms of your fidelity over time, such as by making a previously open relationship closed, or a closed relationship open. The terms may not be acceptable to you, and thus may lead you to have to end the relationship.
    • you and your partner may think that transitioning from a monogamous to an open relationship, or from an open relationship to a monogamous relationship will solve all your sexual and relationship problems. While such a transition might be the right choice for both of you, it might also create unanticipated problems (the independent film "The Freebie" does a great job of exploring these themes).
  • How do you know someone is being honest about their sexual preferences? The answer to this question is that you generally don't, at least not definitively. People are not always forthcoming about their sexual propensities, and may only tell you what they think you want to hear:
    • Some people initially present themselves as far more open minded about and interested in sex than they actually are, while others who enjoy a high degree of sexual variety with different partners claim to enjoy "vanilla" sex with just one partner.
    • Many people are not fully aware of how monogamously, or non-monogamously inclined they really are, and sometimes have near delusional beliefs about how much they or their partner can change. Following are two real-life stories:
      • A man went from dating one woman for several years to dating a poly woman with many partners. A year into the relationship, being driven mad with jealousy, he tried to use an attractive secondary to make his primary girlfriend jealous in hopes of convincing her to "commit" to becoming monogamous.
      • A woman began to unravel emotionally after two years of pretending she was bisexual and into threesomes, and admitted to doing all this to keep her ultra-poly boyfriend around, believing that someday if he loved her enough, he would magically transform into someone who would be content with a monogamous relationship, even though he had been poly his whole life.
      • Not surprisingly, no one in these scenarios changed their poly/mono orientation, and short-term concessions did not make anyone happy enough to stick around.
    • The best way to find out someone's true sexual preferences is to observe their behavior closely, with your eyes wide open, and talk to them directly and openly about sex and sexual relationships. Does your girlfriend, who claims to be bi and kinky, cringe when a woman she claims to find attractive tries to kiss her? Does your boyfriend, who claims to be "naturally monogamous", collect phone numbers from random women he meets in supermarkets? Try to face reality.
    • You can also learn a lot about your partner or potential partner's real sexual propensities by asking them to tell you about their sexual history. Most people older than age 25 tend to try to replicate the kinds of relationships they have had in the past.
  • Both you and your future partner's sex drive may change over time. Women's sex drives tend to be more variable than men's for a variety of different reasons, but both men and women may experience such changes.
  • Choosing to remain single and celibate is not without risks and costs, which tend to peak leading up to, and during middle age, when celibate individuals tend to feel the most alienated from all their friends who are married and with children.
  • If you and your future partner have a good sex life from the beginning, communicate well with each other, and find that you are able to talk openly and honestly about your needs and desires, many - but not all - of these risks may be minimized.
  • Only one-third of couples survive the revelation of an infidelity. 50% of people admit to cheating on surveys, and only one of four of those who admit to cheating say their partners found out (or they told them). How do you prevent infidelity from occurring?
    • You cannot, except by becoming celibate. Most likely, every other long-term partner you have will cheat on you, and you may be the last to find out, if you ever find out. Consider taking a more relaxed attitude about infidelity, such as, if it does not negatively impact your home life, one or two indiscretions or flings can be overlooked. If you know you could never tolerate infidelity, here are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk of experiencing it:
      • If your partner ditched a partner to date you, admits to having cheated at any point in the past, admits to having been the mistress or back-door-man in an affair, or has a pattern of being dishonest in relationships, the chances are fairly high s/he will cheat on you if you try to remain monogamous. A polyamorous relationship is unlikely to prevent him or her from violating the agreements you two make, but can be a partial solution in some cases.
      • If your partner has either narcissistic and/or avoidant personality traits, studies have found that these personality traits are more predictive of cheating. It is possible that in a more open type of relationship, a narcissistic partner would get enough attention, or an avoidant partner would feel emotionally distant enough from all involved, that s/he would stay true to the agreements you two make about your relationships. There is also the risk that no matter how open your relationship is, a narcissist will ditch you if s/he thinks a better "primary partner" has come along, and that someone avoidant will feel emotionally suffocated by a long-term relationship with a primary partner, and may need to be alone or see other people without seeing you.
      • Just because a partner has a low sex drive, or appears to lose interest in sex with you, does not guarantee s/he is not cheating (if you are monogamous), since cheating is not always just about having sex with someone new. Many partners pull away from their primary partner when they begin cheating. A decline in sex and affection in a relationship is the best predictor that it is coming to an end, even if cheating is not occurring.
      • People end relationships for many reasons other than infidelity - most often due to disagreements about division of labor/childcare in the house, and different ideas about how to budget and spend money. If your partner broke up with you, with no other person in mind to leave you for, ask yourself whether you would still think the relationship was worthwhile? If your answer to this question is yes, that is a good sign that the two of you may have a promising future together.

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Categories: Single Life